Wondering how fit do you have to be for Everest Base Camp?
Our veteran guide, Nev, has led many treks in Nepal and he’s always itching to get back out there. Finally, we sat him down for a moment or two to ask him all about how, why and when to train for a trekking holiday. Read on for his top tips, tricks and habits to make your life-changing trek even more enjoyable.
For most of us, trekking to Everest Base Camp is, by definition, a challenge. Trekking back involves some effort, too!
If you plan on trekking to it, you might have asked yourself: are you fit enough?
If you have asked yourself that, I’ll start off with some of the really good news…
Fun fact: The Base Camp trek favours tortoises over hares. Even if you take the shortcut of flying into Lukla and trekking from there, you still have eight trekking days to get to Base Camp. This is nobody’s idea of a sprint event. It’s about being slow and steady.
What’s more, we at Lost Earth Adventures arrange your baggage to be carried by porters (there being no roads after Lukla). All you have to carry is your day pack.
Even better, of the eight trekking days, two are usually ‘acclimatisation days’ where you walk unencumbered to a notable viewpoint and back again.
Getting used to that air
Acclimatisation to altitude is exactly why there are strict rules as to how far you walk uphill each day.
The rule is that you don’t sleep more than 300 metres higher than your previous night’s sleep.
This means that the average trekking day (for the average trekker, I might add!) is limited to about seven hours’ trekking.
Don’t forget, the route out is the same as the route in. If the trekking or the altitude prove too much, there are always options to descend early or to wait for the return of the rest of your group.
None of this is to suggest that you can or should attempt this without serious preparation. The more your body is stressed, the harder it is to acclimatise to the altitude.
We do everything we can to ensure you’re well-fed, well-rested and fully hydrated. These things go a long way in aiding your adjustment, but they can’t do anything to improve your fitness. That needed to happen months ago.
Once you’ve decided to do the trek, you should start training as soon as possible.
At the very least, improved fitness ensures you can enjoy more of the views all around you and less of the sight of your shoes as you pant for breath.
There’s more than one facet as to how you should prepare your body, and I like to break it down into lungs, legs, knees and back.
The body is a temple
If you go hill walking in the UK, you’ll find your ascents are first slowed down by either your lungs or your legs. You either start puffing and panting which means your lungs can’t get enough oxygen into your body, or your legs ache because they haven’t got enough muscle to process that oxygen.
The situation is different, and simpler, with Himalayan trekking. The higher you ascend, the less oxygen available to you. Getting your lungs in good fettle is essential. Improving their capacity is quite straightforward: get them out of breath. Frequently.
If the only time you’re breathless is running for buses, cut out the middleman and just go for a post-work run. Don’t worry about the distance for now. Just make sure it’s easy enough that you don’t injure yourself, but hard enough that you end up out of puff.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be running. Other aerobic exercise including swimming and cycling work well, as does uphill walking.
Although walking uses all the body, uphill walking specifically targets the quads, the muscles on the front of the thighs that help you push your body up against gravity.
As is often the case, the best training methodology is to do the activity you’re targeting. If you’re feeling confident, you could go big by training on longer or more frequent ascents, or carrying a weighted pack on your bag.
If you can’t get into the hills regularly, you can work on carrying a load on the flat. Like all aspects of training, it helps if you can get into a routine. Maybe get into the habit of walking to the supermarket and bringing home the goods in your rucksack?
Avoiding the jelly legs
Carrying heavy loads uphill is one thing. Carrying them back down is something else entirely.
Any preparation for Everest Base Camp should include the walk down as much as the walk up.
Everyone’s knees take a hammering to one degree or another, which is something that neither swimming nor cycling can prepare you for.
Running is excellent preparation for it, but some of us find running is a little jarring on our delicate knees.
That said, your trekking poles are there for this very reason, so make sure you have yours to hand.
Back to basics
While you won’t have to bring much on the trek, you will carry a 30 litre pack on your back every day. Make sure your pack feels comfortable on your back by filling it up, adjusting the straps and wearing it for a few hours. If it’s not comfortable, do yourself a favour and choose a different one!
The nitty gritty
OK, so you’re determined enough to get going. It’s time to put some numbers on this thing.
When should you start training? No time like the present.
Most people start with 3-4 x 30 minute sessions of sustained activity at moderate intensity per week. Moderate intensity means raising your heart rate and getting you slightly out of breath.
With the introduction over, time to move on to the main part of your training. This should be 4-6 x 45-60 minute aerobic sessions of sustained activity, including a gentle warm-up and cool-down with stretches.
This kind of exercise might include running, walking on an inclined treadmill, doing stair-master training, trail running, working on an elliptical machine, walking up and down hills, or joining an aerobics class.
Though biking, rowing and swimming are good alternatives, they don’t put much load onto your spine. If you decide to train with these activities, make sure you work your back.
Prominent hill walking
If you’re able to get out into the UK mountains, it’s good to start with a hike which gains up to 300 metres of elevation over a 4-6 miles round trip while carrying an 3.5kg (8-pound pack). With each walk, try adding another pound until you’re comfortable with a 7kg (15-pound pack), then increase elevation. The end aim is to gain 900 metres in 3 hours with a 7kg pack.
If you live in a flat area, you can make the most out of stairs and inclined treadmills. Find terrain which will simulate hill walking, such as gravel beds, sand dunes, river banks and walking on beaches.
If you want to practice with a group, why not test yourself on a UK-based hiking challenge like the Yorkshire 3 Peaks or Hadrian’s Wall? See a list of our Open Group Events.
The benefit of interval training
Interval training is pushing your body to a certain limit, then giving yourself a set time to recover before going again. Push yourself hard, then time how quickly you recover. Keep practicing and add elevation and weight as your trek nears.
About a month before your trek, you should be at the conditioning level where you are comfortable hiking on consecutive days. This involves hiking with about 7kg (15 pounds) on the first day for at least 600-900 metres of elevation gain, and a somewhat lighter pack for greater mileage on the second day to simulate two days of trekking in a row. It’ll not only help you physically but will prepare you mentally for pushing on without adequate recovery time.
All part of the service
Of course, it’s up to you to get your training plan right, so let’s look at this from a different angle. Imagine the disappointment of getting out there and being unable to make it to Base Camp? Or, instead of training to make it there, use it as motivation to get fit(ter). What better motivation?
That acclimatisation you built up will linger for a while on your return, too. You’ll feel how ridiculously efficient at getting oxygen to your muscles your body is. Though it will wear off after maybe three weeks, there’s nothing stopping you from reaching any Personal Bests from walking to running to cycling and more. All part of the service. Go for it!
Nev is one of our most trusted overseas guides and loves the Everest Base Camp trek. He’s also written what it was like leading a charity challenge up to Base Camp.
Read more about our Everest Base Camp trek or speak with our team.